UNLV Football Coaching Candidates

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WWJD – UNLV Football Life After Sanchez 

 

It became official on Monday morning when reports surfaced that UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois had informed Head Coach Tony Sanchez on Friday that he would be relieved of his duties. Jose State and Nevada-Reno would be his final two games as the Rebels head football coach. In his fifth and final season at the helm of the UNLV football program, coach Sanchez goes into “Reno Week” with a career mark of 19-40 overall.

While those who feel he failed or didn’t like the hire were on social media with the “I told you so’s” and continue to revel in his dismissal, I will always be quick to point out that his job was tougher than most know or will admit.

“We moved the needle,” Sanchez said. “This community is so generous. They’ve done such a good job of believing in something that doesn’t exist, that’s UNLV football.”

 

UNLV football Life After Sanchez

What Sanchez was asked to do when he was hired five years ago was to raise the program’s APR from where it was, on the verge of not being eligible for a Bowl game, to where it is now, the highest in school history (2.8 GPA). He also was asked to raise funds for the Fertitta Football Complex ($32 million on his end) as well as modernize the program, and give it purpose, direction, and realistic expectations.

“I’m grateful for my time here and proud of the strides we made as a football program, on and off the field,” Sanchez said. “I’m proud of our student-athletes and our staff and how we have positioned the program for future success. I look forward to finishing the season strong with these young men. I would also like to thank our community, our alumni and our donors for their generous support in making the Fertitta Football Complex a reality.”

Sanchez is the only coach in school’s 52-year history to average 28 or more points four straight years as well as have his teams average over 400 yards a game four straight years. Tony also has won the Fremont Cannon twice in four years and could win it a third time should he win Saturday, compared to the previous 10 years prior to him where UNLV won it once.

Sanchez also said, “I truly believe bigger and better days are ahead for UNLV.”

Since Reed-Francois has made her decision to move on, we have to turn our focus to the future as well and who may be candidates to take over the UNLV football program. Whoever takes the helm can thank coach Sanchez since they will be set up for success with the Fertitta Football Complex and Allegiant Stadium coming online in 2020.

So this edition of WWJD will focus on the real possible coaching candidates.” I am going to dive into some of the names you may or may not know. I also want to make it clear that no one other than Reed-Francois knows who will be on her list to interview. This list was compiled using various sources that are connected to each coach. These candidates are purely speculative on my end.

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Who could be on the list?:

UNLV football fans are throwing their names of potential candidates out there across the message boards and on social media. The three names I see the most are:

  •  Jay Hill – Weber St. Head Coach
  •  Joe BradyLSU Receivers Coach & Passing Game   Coordinator
  •  Danny Gonzalez – Former San Diego State and current Arizona State Defensive Coordinator 
  •  Lane Kiffin –  Florida Atlantic Head Coach 
  •  Jim Mora Jr.Former UCLA Head Coach
  •  Steve Sarkisian – Alabama Offensive Coordinator

 

Photo Credit: UNLV

In all honesty, no one knows who Desiree Reed-Francois would consider, and if they say they know definitively, they are lying. Her basketball hires historically are much different from her football hires so I wouldn’t base too much on the hiring of TJ Otzelberger as the UNLV men’s basketball coach. I would consider the UNLV athletic budget and how and how much she could pay a new football staff, first and foremost, unless she has boosters backing her financially for this hire.

Reed-Francois said at the press conference on Monday afternoon that UNLV will be competitive with the new head coaches salary. Here is a list of the top 5 coaches salaries in the Mountain West so you can gauge what the next coach may be paid:

  1. Mike BoboColorado St.– $1.8M
  2. Bryan HarsinBoise St.- $1.65M
  3. Jeff TedfordFresno St.– $1.55M
  4. Craig BohlWyoming– $1.4M
  5. Rocky LongSan Diego St.– $873.5K

I have also heard an unverified rumor that an offer was extended to Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin who declined it respectfully. If that is true you would have to think that Reed-Francois has the money from a booster(s) or friends of the program to pay a potential program-changing head coach.

 

I revised the rumored potential candidates from last week’s list with a front runner included.

 

Photo Credit- footballscoop.com

Joe Brady, LSU passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach

Joe Brady’s a rising star, no a zenith in the coaching profession. In fact, I don’t know if I have ever seen an assistant coach who has had more of an impact on a school, ever.

He is from Florida, where he was a 4-year varsity letterman wide receiver in High School. Brady earned a scholarship to William and Mary, where he played and earned a degree. He starting his coaching career there as a linebacker coach. He then moved on to Penn St. as a graduate assistant under James Franklin and their former offensive coordinator and current Mississippi St. head coach Joe Moorhead.

He then learned even more offense from New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton when he became an offensive assistant for the Saints before taking the job at LSU as their passing game/wide receivers coach.

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron brought in and has credited Brady for helping LSU discover the passing game, turning the Tigers into a more balanced offensive attack the past two seasons after years of not being able to pass the ball. Brady has established himself quickly as an excellent recruiter and has excellent relationships with players, staff, and parents.

Brady signed a three-year contract in 2018 that runs through the 2021 season that pays him $400,000 a year. But late Saturday night reports started to surface that the 30-year-old rising star is about to enter talks with LSU to pay him like an “NFL coordinator.” He is going to be the hottest name on the market (not named Urban Meyer) and will be mentioned for almost any job in college football.

Is Brady the “pie in the sky” coaching candidate to whom UNLV could turn? Possibly, but like every other person that will be mentioned in this portion of WWJD, UNLV needs to pony-up and pay. So the question is, can they and will they?

Maybe the better question to ask is, will Brady listen? If UNLV is willing to pay, I could see Brady taking the job and starting his head coaching career.

 

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Photo Credit: Weber St Sports

Jay Hill – Weber State Head Coach

The 44-year old Hill is in his sixth season at Weber State, where he has a 42-28 carer record and won two Big Sky championships. He played with the University of Utah as a cornerback from 1998-1999 and became a GA in 2003. In 2005 he became a full-time coach for the Utes coaching special teams and cornerbacks.

He stayed in Utah until the job at Weber State opened up in 2014. His coaching career started slow, going 2-10 in his first year. But in year two they went 6-5, followed by 7-4. In 2017 he led his team to an 11-3 record followed by a 10-4 record, but both seasons ended in defeat in FCS Quarterfinals.

This season the Wildcats are 6-2 (4-0 in  Big Sky conference play)

Hill is making $275,000 with a $100,000 buyout. Monetarily he would make sense for UNLV, but like any first time FBS head coach, he would have to assemble a staff that isn’t from the FCS level. He also has no ties to Reed-Francois.

I do think that Hill could be a possibility for Reed-Francois, but I also wonder if she would want him knowing that if he doesn’t work out it would be a very negative reflection on her ability to select the right coach for the job.

 

UNLV football Life After Sanchez     UNLV football Life After Sanchez     UNLV football Life After Sanchez

Photo Credit: 24/7 Sports

Jim Mora Jr.- Former UCLA Head Coach

Jim has to be considered the front runner for the head coaching job. There is a tie to Reed-Francois here. Mora coached at UCLA, where she went to college. He also toured the UNLV campus last year, and rumors swirled that he was the preferred choice to replace Sanchez then. After UNLV finished strong, beating SDSU and Reno, it was nearly impossible to remove him, and the Reed-Francois had to pass.

Mora has a 46-30 record (2-2 in Bowls) at UCLA but was more famous for his comments about USC than any win. He also has a coaching pedigree being the son of former NFL head coach Jim Mora as well as being a former NFL head coach himself. Mora coached the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-2006.

Mora helped turn the Bruins around and was able to recruit well. He brought in Myles Jack, Kenny Clark, Anthony Barr, and Brett Hundley, but never could “run LA” like he said the Bruins would so infamously. What Mora did do well was recruit Southern California as well as the South.

Since being let go by UCLA, Mora has gotten into TV and is still just 57 years old. The question would be, what is he looking for salary-wise and staff-wise? If Mora is looking to become the highest-paid coach in the Mountain West Conference, Desiree is going to have to get support from outside sources. Truthfully, Mora could also be looking to get back into coaching and resurrecting his career with some of the best facilities and the best stadium in the Mountain West Conference.

I think Mora is the clear front runner for the head coaching job with his ties to Reed-Francois and his desire to get back into coaching.

 

UNLV football Life After Sanchez

Photo Credit: arizonasports.com

Danny Gonzalez- Arizona St. Defensive Coordinator

Gonzalez is another name that many UNLV fans think would be a solid hire. He was at SDSU as the defensive coordinator until last season when he went to ASU to help Herm Edwards turn around the Sun Devils.

Gonzalez has put together excellent defenses and knows the lay of the land in the Mountain West Conference. He is also making decent money at ASU ($525,000). The question is would he leave for a slight pay raise to run this program?

People I spoke to in the ASU program have told me that they do not expect Gonzalez to leave for a Group of 5 head coaching position and that he is holding out for a Power-5 head man job. They also said that Gonzalez is pleased in Tempe working with Edwards as his defensive coordinator until the right job comes along.

Based on the information my ASU sources have told me last week, and I trust them immensely, Gonzalez wouldn’t be interested, but that may have changed since then. Coach Gonzalez has been dealing with a family issue (that I will keep private), and it’s understandable that he feels torn about any other job.   

 

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Photo Credit: SB Nation

Steve Sarkisian- Alabama- Offensive Coordinator

The former USC and Washington head coach has baggage. He has battled alcohol addiction which cost him his job, but he seems to have turned his life around after stints in Atlanta with the Falcons as their offensive coordinator and in Alabama (twice) in the same role. Sark is leading the Tide offense that ranks 7th overall in college football and is known as a great recruiter on the West Coast as well as in the South.

The embattled coach has worked hard to get his life back on track and is looking to become a head coach again. He knows that he won’t be looked at for Power-5 head coaching jobs at the moment, and he has to re-prove himself and regain trust with potential employers.

Sarkisian does bring name value and flair to Las Vegas, and he also knows how to work a room to help get donations, something he was great at while at USC. Sark also is very familiar with the Mountain West Conference from his days as BYU’s quarterback. He is currently making $1.6 million as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator, but if UNLV can put him in a position to make something close to that, he could be an option.

While Sark makes a lot of sense on the field to some, I am not sure how Reed-Francois will view his past discretions in a city like Las Vegas.

UNLV football Life After Sanchez     UNLV football Life After Sanchez

Other names that have been rumored to have interest in the head coaching position or UNLV may have interest in include:

  • Butch Davis- Former Tennesse Head Coach
  • Pat Hill- Former Fresno St. Head Coach
  • Houston Nutt- Former Arkansas and Ole Miss Head Coach
  • Clay Helton- Soon-to-be former USC Head Coach
  • Kalen DeBoer- Offensive Coordinator- Indiana
  • Morgan Scalley- Defensive Coordinator- Utah
  • Marcus Arroyo- Offensive Coordinator- University of Oregon

 

Names that I don’t think will be up for consideration:

  • Todd Graham Former Arizona St. Head Coach
  • Willie Taggart Former Florida State Head Coach
  • Rich Rodriguez Former Arizona & Michigan Head Coach
  • Jim McElwain- Head Coach- Central Michigan
  • Mark Entz- Head Coach- North Dakota State University
  • Bryant Vincent- Offensive Coordinator- UAB 

UNLV football Life After Sanchez    UNLV football Life After Sanchez     UNLV football Life After Sanchez

 

Photo Credit: USA Today

So, WWJD?

Out of this list, I would go hard after LSU’s Joe Brady. His resume is impressive, he checks all the boxes, and he would bring instant juice and buzz to the program from a national level as well as with recruits. What will Desiree Reed-Francois do? No one knows for sure, but I believe that it is very possible that Jim Mora Jr. will be named the next UNLV head football coach in the upcoming weeks.

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